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By Roy Rasmussen Updated on October 7, 2021

10 Cheap Marketing Ideas for Small Business Owners

You can’t make sales without marketing, but promotion efforts can get expensive. Here are 10 cheap marketing ideas to cut your costs:

  1. Track your performance
  2. Strengthen your unique selling proposition 
  3. Improve your sales copy and scripts
  4. Extend a special offer to your current customers
  5. Develop cross-sell and upsell offers
  6. Reach out to past customers
  7. Ask for referrals
  8. Leverage promotional partnerships
  9. Prioritize high-performing content
  10. Repurpose content

Use these cheap and effective marketing ideas to help jumpstart your sales.

1. Track Your Performance

One of the most important but overlooked low-budget marketing strategies is tracking your performance with measurable key performance indicators (KPIs)

If you’re guiding your marketing by intuition and not tracking your numbers, you don’t have any objective information for guiding your decisions. You can’t tell what’s working and what isn’t, and you may be wasting money on campaigns that aren’t getting results.

Examples of important marketing KPIs you can use to track your performance include:

  • Marketing qualified leads: These are leads that meet certain criteria qualifying them as prospective buyers.
  • Sales qualified leads: These are customers who have expressed an interest in talking to your sales team.
  • Unique visitor traffic: How many visitors click on your site at least once over a given period?
  • Organic traffic: How much traffic do you get on a specific keyword phrase?
  • Conversion rate: This is the percentage of visitors to your site who opt into your email list, subscribe to your social media following, buy products or take some other sales-oriented action.
  • Average value per sale: This is how much your average customer spends per transaction.
  • Customer lifetime value: This is how much your average customer spends over the course of their relationship with you.
  • Lead acquisition cost: How much does it cost you?
  • Customer acquisition cost: How much does it cost you to acquire a lead and convert them into a customer?
  • Return on investment: This is the ratio between your marketing profits and expenses.

Focus on tracking KPIs which align with your marketing and sales goals. For instance, if your goal is to generate more appointments for your sales team, you should pay close attention to sales qualified leads.

To make sure your tracking information is being put to practical use, schedule regular report reviews. You also can set up customized dashboards to view your performance on your most important KPIs.

Your unique selling proposition is a brief statement that sums up what your brand offers, why your customers should want it and why they should buy it from you.

2. Strengthen Your Unique Selling Proposition

Another of the most effective but inexpensive marketing ideas for small business is strengthening your unique selling proposition (USP). This is a brief statement that sums up what your brand offers, why your customers should want it and why they should buy it from you instead of someone else. 

If your USP doesn’t capture the highlights of what your brand offers, you could be attracting the wrong audience, promoting benefits your market doesn’t want or positioning yourself poorly against the competition. A USP which is better aligned with your target market can instantly help you attract more qualified prospects, increasing your sales conversion rate.

You can strengthen your USP by using a number of tactics:

  • Offering higher quality than your competition
  • Providing more value than your competition
  • Giving better service than your competition
  • Addressing a niche audience your competition is neglecting
  • Offering a better price

Keep your USP short enough that you can use it in formats that only allow you a short amount of space, such as blog titles or social media posts.

For best results, research your market to help you identify what your target audience wants and what your competition is offering, and test different USPs on sample audiences to see which works best. Consider hiring a marketing agency or professional copywriter to help you craft a winning USP.

3. Improve Your Sales Copy and Scripts

Like strengthening your USP, improving the language you use on your website sales pages and in sales presentations can bring an immediate improvement to your sales conversion rate and revenue. You can improve your sales language by:

  • Addressing problems more relevant to your target market
  • Offering benefits your target buyers prioritize
  • Extending a stronger sales offer by offering a better price point, a discount, a bonus or a guarantee
  • Answering objections that hinder prospects from buying

To optimize your sales language, use market research to determine what will appeal to your target buyers. For example, you can survey your customers to find which problems are most important to them or which benefits are most appealing to them. You can test different variations on your sales language to determine which brings the best results.

4. Extend a Special Offer to Your Current Customers

One of the simplest low-cost marketing ideas for small businesses is reaching out to your current customers. Acquiring new leads and customers is expensive. Extending offers to your current customers costs virtually nothing, making this one of the most inexpensive marketing ideas available to you. 

Moreover, unlike new prospects, your current customers already have displayed enough trust in your brand to buy from you. If they are satisfied with your brand from their previous purchases, they are more likely to buy from you than new prospects.

To tap into your current customer base, you can develop a special offer geared towards existing customers. For instance, you can offer a loyalty discount, or you can extend offers on occasions such as customers’ birthdays, holidays or other special events.

5. Develop Cross-Sell and Upsell Offers

Another way to leverage your relationship with your current customers is to extend cross-sell and upsell offers. A cross-sell is an offer that complements a product or service a customer already has purchased. For instance, a customer purchasing an electronic device may need batteries. An upsell is a more expensive offer that builds on a purchase a customer already has made. 

For example, a company that sells smartphones might offer the latest upgrade to buyers who have purchased an earlier model. These types of offers can increase your average transaction value for both existing customers and new customers.

To develop cross-sell and upsell offers, consider what your customers have already purchased and what needs they still have after making that purchase. Their purchase may reflect other needs they have which aren’t addressed by what they bought, or what they bought may put them in a position where they logically need an additional product or service.

In some cases, you can use your current product and service line to extend cross-sells and upsells. In other cases, you may need to introduce new products and services. To develop effective cross-sells and upsells, ask your customers what other products and services they want.

6. Reach Out to Past Customers

When you’re doing creative marketing on a budget, another simple method is to reactivate dormant customer accounts. You probably have some customers who haven’t purchased from you in a while. These customers are already in your database, so it doesn’t cost you anything to acquire them as leads, in contrast to new prospects.

There are different reasons why customers may not have purchased from you recently. In some cases, the reason may simply be that you haven’t offered them anything lately and they haven’t thought about your brand. In other cases, their needs may have changed, or they may have experienced a customer service issue with your brand.

The simplest way to reach out to past customers is to extend a welcome-back discount offer. You also can remind them of your brand by sharing posts from your blog and social media.

Another tactic is asking customers why you haven’t heard from them in a while. This may help you make amends with customers who have had a bad experience and it may yield insights into problems with your customer service or your product line.

Another powerful but affordable marketing tactic for small businesses is asking for referrals.

7. Ask for Referrals

Another powerful but affordable marketing tactic for small businesses is asking for referrals. Referrals leverage your customers by turning them into lead-generation partners. Because customers normally refer you to their family and friends and peers, referrals come from a trusted source, making this a highly effective form of marketing. Asking your customers to refer you to others doesn’t cost you anything, but can yield profitable results.

To launch a referral campaign, develop a referral script. A referral script asks your customers to refer your brand to family, friends or other qualified buyers. A good referral script should include a few key components:

  • Identify who you’re asking your customers to refer you to
  • Explain what benefit referred customers will receive from your brand
  • Offer customers an incentive for making referrals, such as a discount or an appeal to their natural desire to help others
  • Explicitly ask for a referral
  • Provide instructions on how to make a referral, such as a link to share

These elements should be distilled into a short referral request which can be conveyed in a few sentences or less. A copywriter can help you develop a good referral script.

8. Leverage Promotional Partnerships

Acquiring your own leads takes time and costs money, but teaming up with promotional partners can provide you with instant access to a large number of qualified leads. Finding the right promotional partner can provide the shortest path to multiplying your marketing base.

To find good promotional partners, look for companies that already have your target market among their customer base, but which don’t directly compete with you. For example, a graphic design agency could profit by teaming up with website builders for small businesses.

When approaching prospective promotional partners, you should prepare a compelling offer. Consider how it would benefit the other party to team up with you. For example, you might offer a commission for referrals or you might offer to cross-promote their business to your own customers.

9. Prioritize High-Performing Content

Content marketing is a highly effective marketing strategy, but developing content takes time and costs money. However, if you’ve already developed content that is getting good results, you may be able to increase those results for a minimal investment.

To use this strategy, you must first track your content to identify which items are generating the most leads. Use your marketing KPIs to review your blog posts, social media posts, videos and other properties and identify which of your content is getting the best results.

You can then scale up the promotion of your top-performing content. One way to do this is by promoting it to your email list and social media following. You also can use search engine ads or social media ads to promote your content to a larger audience. Another strategy is combining this method with promotional partnerships by asking your partners to promote your content.

You may be able to make your top-performing content deliver even greater results by optimizing it. Sometimes a slight change to a headline, a different keyword or a different image may generate more leads and conversions. Try tweaking and testing different versions of your best content to see which yields the best results.

10. Repurpose Content

Another low-cost way to utilize your existing content is by repurposing it. This can be faster and less expensive than developing new content.

You can repurpose content by presenting the same material in a different form. In general, content in any format can be converted into any other format. Variations of this strategy include:

  • Giving a blog a different slant by adapting the material for a different niche market
  • Turning a blog into the basis of a video script
  • Using excerpts from a podcast to write a blog

By repurposing, you can turn one piece of content into several promotional pieces to target audiences from different media.

Leverage Cheap Marketing Tactics to Fuel Sales Growth

When you need big marketing ideas for small budgets, the affordable methods outlined here can yield a big return on investment. 

Tactics such as performance tracking, strengthening your USP and sales copy and extending offers to current and past customers don’t require a significant investment to work. Asking for referrals and cultivating promotional partnerships doesn’t cost you anything but can multiply your customer base. Prioritizing high-performance content and repurposing content leverage investments you’ve already made, keeping your costs down.

While these cheap marketing methods can generally be done without a large expense outlay, you can multiply their effectiveness by investing in hiring an experienced marketing agency or copywriter. If you’re marketing on a tight budget but want to increase your profit margin by scaling up, consider applying for small business financing such as a short-term loan to cover your expenses.

Roy is a respected, published author on topics including business coaching, small business management and business automation as well as an expert business plan writer and strategist.
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